EAST MANATEE -- Carlos Crawford wanted to make his first varsity start a memorable one.
The Braden River junior did just that when he burst into the end zone from a yard out with 1 minute, 42 seconds left in the game, giving the host Pirates the winning points in a hard-fought 14-7 victory over Bayshore on Friday night.
The winning drive was set up when Bayshore muffed a punt that Andrew Garcia recovered on the Bruins' 23-yard line.
After a penalty pushed the Pirates back to the 28, Crawford carried the ball four straight times. He had an 18-yard run that gave Braden River a first down at the 10. He took it to the 1 and then barreled into the end zone.
"It feels great. It was tough at first, but as the game progressed I started to see different holes open, and I started to hit them harder and harder. Eventually it opened up and we scored and won the game," Crawford said. "Our starting running back (Titus Humphrey) got hurt during the week and so I had to step up to the plate. As the game went on I got better and better."
The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Crawford struggled in the first half. He had negative three yards on his first four carries and finished with only seven yards on eight carries in the first half. But he came alive after intermission and piled up 65 yards on 12 carries with 42 of those yards coming in the fourth quarter.
Both teams had been scoring a lot of points, but this turned into a defensive battle almost from the outset.
After throwing an interception in the end zone, Bayshore went 80 yards in 11 plays, capping the drive on a three-yard run by Octavious Cole to take a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter.
Wesley Jackson sparked the drive connecting on four of five passes for 65 yards while adding a 14-yard run. The senior quarterback finished the game with 114 yards on 12 carries and threw for 75 yards with one interception.
"It was a tough, well-played contested game. We knew it would come down to a couple of plays," Bayshore head coach Elijah Freeman said. "We had some miscues and obviously the muffed punt didn't help. We didn't do a great job of blocking, but you've got to credit Braden River. They made it so we couldn't make mistakes and they capitalized on the ones we did."
Braden River (4-2) has been a second-half team all season, and the Pirates continued that trend.
Trailing 7-0 at halftime, the Pirates stopped Bayshore on the opening drive of the third quarter. Justin Ross returned a punt for an apparent touchdown, but it was nullified by a block in the back. But the Pirates kept their momentum and three plays later, Dusty Peebles hit Andre Mays, who made a leaping catch for a 33-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 with 8:57 left in the third quarter.
Bayshore attempted a 33-yard field that was blocked midway through the fourth quarter. The Pirates stalled and punted the ball and later recovered to set up the winning score.
Peebles completed 14 of 24 passes for 136 yards. Mays caught six passes for 69 yards.
"Carlos was buried on the depth chart. He is kind of undersized ,but he has the heart of a lion, got some carries and did a great job for us," Braden River head coach Curt Bradley said.
"We were able to wear them down a little. Our kids went from a season last year where they weren't even in the game come the third quarter and now we win the third quarter. They just keep fighting."